India: An incredible journey: Basti to heritage guide

By: Richi Verma

NEW DELHI: Eighteen-year-old Moninuddin was born and brought up in Basti Nizamuddin. But it’s been just 18 months since he learnt about the area’s historical and cultural sigificance.

Moninuddin is one of 15 teenagers from the Basti who have been trained to impart local knowledge as tourist guides.

After nearly two years spent identifying the tangible and intangible heritage of the Basti, the young people were trained to conduct heritage walks. It’s part of a project launched during the ongoing Jashan-e-Khusrau festival here. The project, called the heritage volunteer programme, is part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s (AKTC) urban renewal plans.

The teenagers have formed a self-help group — Sair-e-Nizamuddin — which aims to share the Basti’s cultural heritage with visitors.

They have spent several months studying Delhi’s history, enhancing their speaking skills and learning English — thanks to the British Council — in order to be able to interact with foreign visitors. Those who have been on heritage walks are impressed.

”No doubt, this is giving the locals a sense of pride for their homeland and giving them a new means for employment. Their involvement in these heritage walks has added a special, new dimension,” said Farida Singh, who took part in the walk on Saturday with her friend Pria Devi.

TOI went on one of these heritage walks through the bylanes of the Nizamuddin basti on Saturday morning. The groups were small, with eight to 10 participants, and were led by two young guides. They displayed up-to-date knowledge of each monument, a keen interest to ensure that every participant in the walk could understand the history and significance of the structure, and fluent spoken English to interact with foreign participants.

The walk started at Shiv Mandir in the basti and culminated at Nizamuddin baoli. The one-hour walk covered Hazrat Nizamuddin dargah, Kalan Masjid, Atgah Khan’s tomb, Chausath Khamba, Mirza Ghalib’s tomb and Phoolwali Gali archway, which is the only gateway surviving of the original enclosure wall that once surrounded the settlement. The guides answered questions with insight and managed to keep all the participants interested.

Spanish journalist Elisa Reche, a participant, visiting India to study sufism said the walk gave her a new insight about the history of the basti. ”There is so much history engraved in every stone here. I am glad the local children are making an effort to share this knowledge with others,” she said. Her thoughts were echoed by another foreign national, Hilda Lubig from Germany, who said: ”The whole concept of the walk being led by young inhabitants of the settlement is an excellent way of encouraging young people to take pride in their roots.”

Read complete in Times of India
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